Keeping nuclear plants in the mix
Seabrook could stay up, but only on two conditions
To meet our very challenging climate goals, and address the existential threat of a rapidly warming planet, it makes guarded sense to ensure that Seabrook remains temporarily operational (“Retiring nuclear plants could hurt climate goals,” Editorial, June 3), but only on two conditions.
First, it must continue to pass stringent, annual safety inspections. The plant is already nearly 30 years old and cannot be expected to run safely forever.
Second, and this is absolutely critical, the plant must be shut down each year from the week before July 4 through the week after Labor Day.
Lest anyone forget, the state of Massachusetts, led by then-governor Mike Dukakis and then-attorneys general Frank Bellotti and Jim Shannon, fought an epic legal battle in the late 1980s to prevent Seabrook from obtaining an operating license from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I was a member of the attorney general’s Seabrook legal team.
While there were many grounds for the state’s opposition to licensing Seabrook, the primary objection Massachusetts raised — and proved convincingly during the litigation — was that Seabrook’s off-site emergency response plan for the huge nearby summertime beach population would not work and exposed tens of thousands of beachgoers to significant risk in the event of a reactor accident with a release of radiation. The NRC disregarded this concern when it awarded Seabrook an operating license. Let’s not continue to ignore the safety of the beachgoers any longer.
The writer, a retired environmental lawyer, was a member of the Seabrook litigation team for the Massachusetts attorney general’s office from 1987 to 1989.
With crumbling concrete, future of Seabrook far from certain
I was surprised to see the Globe suggest that Massachusetts should somehow prop up, or perhaps subsidize, Seabrook Station’s power output to help meet CO2 goals. While the editorial addresses the need for new energy solutions, it fails to mention the problems at Seabrook that render uncertain the plant’s continued ability to operate safely.
The reason governments enact climate goals is to help protect people and the environment, while maintaining a viable economy into the future. How then could the Globe omit the fact that Seabrook is the only nuclear reactor in the nation known to be suffering from irreversible concrete degradation? This condition, known as alkali-silica reaction, or ASR, is sometimes referred to as “concrete cancer.”
The failing concrete at Seabrook, which affects all key structures at the plant, is what protects the public from deadly radiation in the core reactor and the 600 tons of high-level nuclear waste stored onsite.
We have real and serious climate challenges, and it’s true, nuclear doesn’t emit greenhouse gases — at the source. But with Seabrook under special oversight by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its current license in question due to ASR, it would be unwise for the Commonwealth to count on the plant to operate decades longer than intended.
Despite the importance of Seabrook to the region’s power grid, state leaders must weigh the health and safety of their residents along with other policy drivers. Massachusetts and New Hampshire should ensure that Seabrook’s license extension isn’t granted without assurance that the public will continue to be protected from unintended radiological exposure.
Natalie Hildt Treat
C-10 Research & Education
The nonprofit organization is named for the citizens within a 10-mile radius of the Seabrook plant.
Many leaders, environmentalists have seen importance of nuclear power
Barack Obama would embrace your June 3 editorial.
In announcing federal support for new nuclear facilities in 2010, he said, “Nuclear energy remains our largest source of fuel that produces no carbon emissions. To meet our growing energy needs and prevent the worst consequences of climate change, we’ll need to increase our supply of nuclear power. It’s that simple.”
In fact, when he was president, Obama consistently championed nuclear power, financially and rhetorically.
Similarly, James Hansen, the former NASA climate scientist, and a pioneer and leader in the fight against climate change, has said it would be “crazy” not to use nuclear power to address this challenge.
Other prestigious environmentalists stridently supporting nuclear power include Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog; Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University; and Michael Shellenberger, President of Environmental Progress.
While it may seem counterintuitive to support nuclear power to protect the environment, many prominent leaders and experts are already there, and have been for some time.
We should be more urgent in exploring alternatives
The Globe says we need to continue our reliance on nuclear power, but offers not a word about the ever-growing pile of concrete casks holding radioactive waste at nuclear plants. Nor is there any mention of the deteriorating condition of many plants, including Seabrook.
There are viable alternatives. Massachusetts should mandate incorporation of offshore wind power much more rapidly into the grid; the amount the Legislature called for is a small fraction of the wind resource available. We should continue to pursue getting Canadian hydropower by making transmission through Maine worthwhile to that state. Most important, Massachusetts, in conjunction with other states, should push for action on a national scale to do what China is already doing: build an ultra-high-voltage, direct current, transcontinental grid that would allow highly efficient transmission of electricity from wherever the wind is blowing or the sun is shining to where it isn’t. Such a system could reduce US greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below the 1990 level by 2035.
If and when a new generation of nuclear plants can really provide electricity that is safe and does not produce nuclear waste, that will be great. In the meantime, we should urgently pursue other means of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
Foes are not ‘fearmongering’
You write that keeping Seabrook open “might be a tough sell — partly because of decades of fearmongering about nuclear power.” I’d hardly call what happened at Chernobyl and Fukushima “fearmongering.” Both are massive environmental disasters and part of our world’s reality.
And for a true assessment of any future of nuclear power, one needs to answer the question of what we do with the waste.